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Answered Prayer and Prayerlessness
February 13, 2007
Thank you. Just over a week ago I asked that you would pray for me. I asked that God would allow me opportunity both to work (and thus make money to support my family) and to find time to finish up my book in what is going to be a very busy six to eight weeks. Someone must have taken the time to pray for me because God answered in an amazing way. Late last week I got a call from a person whose client needed a site completed on an emergency basis. When he told me how much these people were willing to pay, my eyes bugged out a little bit. I dropped everything and worked on the site for two days, Friday and Saturday. During this time I made what is pretty well a month’s worth of money. So thank you for praying. God is good. This is yet another God moment, another story, proving to me that God is behind me in writing this book. It means the world to me.
For the last few weeks I’ve felt as if I’m somehow living under some kind of special blessing. The realities of God’s care and provision seem so real to me—probably more real than at any other time in my life. I can’t really explain it. Perhaps I should turn to the Puritans, those men and women who had such a gift for understanding and explaining the realities of God’s involvement in our lives. Perhaps they would be able to help me understand. I’ve had lots of moments in my life where I’ve felt so close to God, so aware of His presence. Sometimes they last for minutes and sometimes for days. I think every Christian experiences these and every Christian begs God to never let them go away. And yet they always do. What I feel now is different. It’s not a feeling as much as a sense and understanding of the reality that God is providing in ways that somehow seem beyond the course of the ordinary. That’s the best I can do.
And even while God is providing for me in such amazing ways, I am shocked and amazed by my own prayerlessness. As with many Christians, spending time with God in Scripture and prayer has been a lifelong struggle with me. Neither of these disciplines comes naturally to me and I fight constantly to spend time with God and to even want to spend time with God. It is one that breeds guilt and shame. It breeds exasperation. Even at my most insightful moments I can’t, for the life of me, figure out what it is that convinces me that I should do anything but spend a good part of my day studying God’s Word and pouring out my heart to Him. Even at those times when I feel like I am making strides forward, I still know how much better I could do. I’m amazed at my own failures. It’s not that I don’t pray at all, but more that I just don’t pray enough. I don’t pray often enough and I don’t pray earnestly enough.
Recently I’ve been reading Prayer and the Voice of God by Phillip Jensen and Tony Payne (of Matthias Media fame). I’ve found this book helpful in understanding why we, and why I, don’t pray. It is too easy to say “I’m lazy” or “I can’t find the time” or “I can’t be bothered.” These reasons are too much on the surface and must be mere symptoms of a deeper, greater problem. Jensen and Payne point to three broad reasons. These are not the surface reasons, but the deeper heart issues that feed the surface reasons.
First, we don’t pray because we have false views of God. In our hearts we doubt that God is able to respond to our prayers. We may think that He is limited by natural laws he put in place to govern the world or that He is limited by his fixed, sovereign will. Alternatively, we may doubt that God is willing to respond to our prayers and act in a way that benefits us. We may question whether God is willing to act because of the problem of evil or because we consider our requests too small or insignificant to merit His attention. Of course these are all false assumptions. And, while they may manifest themselves in excuses like “I just don’t have time today,” they are based on a view of God that is opposed to how He reveals Himself to us in Scripture. We sin when we think of God in such human ways.
The second reason is that we have false views of our relationship with God. We may not trust God as we should and persist in this disobedience. We may think that our prayers have only been heard if and when we receive exactly what we asked for or we may think that our feelings are accurate indicators of our prayers and whether or not God has heard them. These are also false assumptions. The reality is that God may answer prayer in an infinite number of ways and we may never understand just how God has answered. He may also answer with a “no.” And while our feelings are important, they cannot stand as the measure of the quality of our prayers or the extent to which God has heard them. Prayer is to be an objective fact of our relationship with God, not a subjective impression of our feelings. And, as the authors point out, “the important thing about trust is not how strong the trust is or how it feels, but whether the thing you’re trusting in is trustworthy.”
The final reason is simply sin and Satan. The ultimate basis of our difficulty is not intellectual but moral and spiritual. Our sin keeps us from acknowledging our dependence on God and our lack of independence. Because we are sinful we do not want to rely on God or respond to His call to trust and prayer. And, of course, Satan, our old adversary, will do all he can to keep us from praying. He will interfere in whatever way he can.
These are three reasons, each of which contributes to the “I don’t have time” and “I can’t be bothered” excuses that we offer all too often. I am spending time searching my heart to see how these false assumptions have somehow fueled my prayerlessness. I know in my head that I need to pray, that I need to pray earnestly, and that I need to pray a lot. And somehow I so often seem not to. There must be something in my heart, something lurking there, that is keeping me from acting on what I know. There must be something that is keeping me from living in obedience and from effectively denying the sovereignty of God on such a consistent basis. There must be.
The authors say, rightly I believe, that the hardest part of prayer is starting. And this is where we so often fail. It is where I so often fail. I do not commit to prayer as a discipline that is absolutely critical to my relationship with God. And then it becomes just so easy to let it slip by or to give it only a token effort. And yet somehow God still sees fit to bless me so richly. He is good.